The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience

What I had in mind was that his previous observations may not have been much sounder than this new one; that each in its turn had been interpreted in the light of "previous experience," and at the same time counted as additional confirmation. What, I asked myself, did it confirm? No more than that a case could be interpreted in the light of a theory. But this meant very little, I reflected, since every conceivable case could be interpreted in the light Adler's theory, or equally of Freud's. I may illustrate this by two very different examples of human behavior: that of a man who pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning it; and that of a man who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save the child. Each of these two cases can be explained with equal ease in Freudian and Adlerian terms. According to Freud the first man suffered from repression (say, of some component of his Oedipus complex), while the second man had achieved sublimation. According to Adler the first man suffered from feelings of inferiority (producing perhaps the need to prove to himself that he dared to commit some crime), and so did the second man (whose need was to prove to himself that he dared to rescue the child). I could not think of any human behavior which could not be interpreted in terms of either theory. It was precisely this fact—that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed—which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favor of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.

With Einstein's theory the situation was strikingly different. Take one typical instance — Einstein's prediction, just then confirmed by the finding of Eddington's expedition. Einstein's gravitational theory had led to the result that light must be attracted by heavy bodies (such as the sun), precisely as material bodies were attracted. As a consequence it could be calculated that light from a distant fixed star whose apparent position was close to the sun would reach the earth from such a direction that the star would seem to be slightly shifted away from the sun; or, in other words, that stars close to the sun would look as if they had moved a little away from the sun, and from one another. This is a thing which cannot normally be observed since such stars are rendered invisible in daytime by the sun's overwhelming brightness; but during an eclipse it is possible to take photographs of them. If the same constellation is photographed at night one can measure the distance on the two photographs, and check the predicted effect.

Now the impressive thing about this case is the risk involved in a prediction of this kind. If observation shows that the predicted effect is definitely absent, then the theory is simply refuted. The theory is incompatible with certain possible results of observation—in fact with results which everybody before Einstein would have expected.[1] This is quite different from the situation I have previously described, when it turned out that the theories in question were compatible with the most divergent human behavior, so that it was practically impossible to describe any human behavior that might not be claimed to be a verification of these theories.


Science makes risky predictions, predicting things that the theory must be strong in order to prove. Popper compares early psychology and its explanations of human behavior that work in all cases with Einstein's theory of relativity and it's risky predictions.

Folksonomies: science pseudoscience theory prediction

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Scientific method (0.972678): dbpedia | freebase
Psychology (0.589836): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Sigmund Freud (0.569088): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Hypothesis (0.556646): dbpedia | freebase
Prediction (0.550326): dbpedia | freebase
Science (0.528189): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Futurology (0.523926): dbpedia
Theory of relativity (0.484121): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 RC Series Bundle: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Routledge Classics)
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Popper , Karl (2002-08-09), RC Series Bundle: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Routledge Classics), Routledge, Retrieved on 2011-08-28
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science philosophy empiricism